Stephanie Halley, Executive Director, Addiction Healing Center at Westminster Rescue Mission

by Kym Byrnes Photography by Nikola Tzenov

For Stephanie Halley, the opportunity to lead the Westminster Rescue Mission came about in a perfect storm. Her personal experience with battling alcoholism paired with almost three decades of nonprofit work and her lifelong roots in Carroll County made her an ideal leader for a nonprofit that has been helping men through addiction for more than 50 years. Halley has her work cut out for her as she aims to destigmatize addiction, and, as she said it, work herself out of a job. “I’d love to be successful enough that this job isn’t needed and we could focus on other issues, but until then, we’re here working towards our mission.”

In a nutshell, what does the Addiction Healing Center at the Westminster Rescue Mission do? We’re a faith-based organization founded in 1968 and we focus on three key areas. First and foremost, we are an addiction healing center offering a long-term recovery program (nine months) and in the midst of COVID, we have opened up the women’s program that has been a long time coming. Additionally, we have a mission store where people can donate items. The individuals in our recovery programs work to get the donated goods on the shelves so folks can shop at the mission store and the proceeds from those sales go right back into the addiction healing center and mission operations. The third key area is a food program. Through our partnership with the Maryland Food Bank we are the largest redistributor of food in the county. We have our own pantry on campus, called Sparrows Nest, and people can sign up to come get groceries once a month. We serve between 600-650 families per month.

How has the rescue mission evolved over the past few years — into being the Addiction Healing Center at the Westminster Rescue Mission? The biggest change for the organization is that in the last few years, we’ve become a CARF [Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities]-accredited organization, which forced us to improve the quality of services we provide. We’ve always been a mission, we’ve always put God at the center of what we do, and we believe we can put God at the center and apply best practices to what we’re doing to have the greatest impact. We are improving the quality of services we provide, and we have big visions because of the need in our area, because of the incredible demand for help.

Beyond that, we’ve done some significant rehab to our campus. We recently opened a 22-bed facility for women. The community has been crying out for more services for women in the area of substance abuse. We have expanded and now offer 36 beds for men. Our nine-month program differs from a lot of other offerings because of our work component. We see work as therapeutic and helps to get people back on their feet. So many people come to us and they are down on themselves, down on their luck, down on work, and so when we offer them this opportunity to work, they’re a part of something, contributing to something and engaging in something that helps the community and it feels good. We find that to be transformative and important in what we do.

What do the holidays look like for the folks in your programs? In some ways the holidays look the same — we don’t close down. The people that are in our 9-month program live here, even through the holidays. For some, being here is a safe haven, others are aching at being away from their loved ones. It’s a tough time for a lot of folks who are suffering through addiction. And in a broader perspective, in the time of COVID, we have been stretched because we have to quarantine people coming into the program and we’ve had to adjust our facility to accommodate that. And there have been related challenges with visitation and people who would otherwise leave campus — we’ve had to put a pause on a lot of stuff.

What kind of challenges does an organization like this face — what are obstacles to success? No. 1 is stigma. Even though the opioid crisis has permeated communities around the country — people are still afraid to talk about it, and that presents barriers. And that’s why it’s important for me to talk about my story. We’ve come a long way in terms of stigma but we have a long way to go.Second, our campus is a beautiful place with lots of history and we love it and we’re tucked away. One of our biggest problems is people knowing that we’re here and what we do and how we can help. Getting the word out is one of our biggest challenges — letting people know who we are and what we do. We’ve been doing this so long and now we’re doing it better and now we need to let people know what we’re doing. And, funding is always an issue. What we do takes money and resources, and we need that investment from our community.

What do you love about this job? I love the people. I love the people that we serve. I love the people that work at the mission. I love the people who are volunteering and offer their love and time and support, and I love being a part of a higher purpose. It’s nothing less than a gift to be able to work in this kind of place. I don’t ever dread going to work and there [are] some really tough days. There is a spirit and a love and a passion and a desire to do good. I get to see miracles all the time — transformation — I get to watch it unfold right in front of my eyes. It’s beautiful. We just had three guys get jobs and to see their excitement and that feeling of “I’m worth something” — that is powerful, and I get to touch that every day. There’s no better way to work.

What impact does this organization have on the broader community? And how can the community support your organization? Think about the guy who has been a drain on his family, his job, society, on lots of people, because of addiction. Taking that person and within nine months having him welcomed back into a family who didn’t want to look at him nine months ago, and who is fit to work and has a positive attitude and has been changed and transformed. There’s an impact that is hard to capture. We can talk about the tax dollars not spent on that person now, we can talk about the 911 calls that aren’t going to go out to administer the Narcan, and it’s not just that person because he’s a part of a family, a network, a job — all impacted. And of course we also impact the community through our partnership with the Maryland Food Bank and our local pantry and outreach efforts.
The community can support our mission by equipping people to be engaged around this issue. Equipping community organizations and churches to recognize when there’s a problem in their midst and to know when someone might need treatment and how to get them the type of treatment they need. The face of addiction is not what most people think it is. I think we need to get over that so we can help people.

What lies ahead for the WRM? What are you looking forward to in the coming years? What’s ahead is we’re serving more people, that we’re meeting more of the need that is out there. We’re also growing our capacity to help the rest of the community to include family supports — addiction is a family thing, so how do we make sure kids are getting the resources they need if a parent is in a program? How do we make sure the spouse or parents or siblings are learning about it and getting ready to accept that person back in and they know how to support them? We need to be expanding to focus on a wider audience affected by addiction.
COVID has presented some trying times and expensive times. Unforeseen costs in battling COVID and not being able to have fundraisers has had a dramatic impact on our budget. We are being creative and looking for resources to fill in the gaps — we are still going and still meeting the need, but it’s not over, and the pandemic will continue to affect us. We need the support of the community.